2021-02-25 Mindfulness of Breathing (41) Seeing Openness of Mind
4:33PM Feb 25, 2021
Mindfulness of mind: "Breathing in, experiencing the mind. Breathing out, experiecing the mind."
While we can't know exactly what the Buddha had in mind when he referred to 'citta' (mind), I wanted to read you part of the definition in the Pali Text Society Dictionary. More or less a standard Pali-English dictionary, it was written over 100 years ago, but it's still an excellent resource for understanding. They have a wonderful entry for 'citta' the word that we are mostly translating as 'mind.' It says, "The meaning of 'citta' is best understood, when explaining it, by expressions familiar to us, as: with all my heart; heart and soul; I have no heart to do it; blessed are the pure in heart; singleness of heart; all of which emphasize the emotional and conative side, more than its mental and rational side. It may therefore be rendered as mood, disposition, state of mind."
Some people prefer to translate 'citta' as heart or heart-mind. It touches the emotional side. The word mind might even feel a bit unemotional – not so connected to our emotional life. People like me treat mind and awareness almost as synonymous sometimes, as we get into deeper meditation. It might lend itself to the idea that we're removed a bit from our embodied emotional life. This may be a little unfortunate. Maybe whatever 'citta' is, wherever the mind is, whatever awareness is – maybe that's a rich world that includes our emotionality in important ways.
In steps seven and eight of mindfulness of breathing, it's looking at the mental activities, recognizing the mental activities in the mind, and then relaxing those mental activities – tranquilizing or calming them – having the mind become open, not contracted. As I said earlier, the mind that's preoccupied gets hijacked. Attention gets hijacked by our desires, aversions, doubts, restlessness, or anxiety.
It's like a black hole that attention falls into and doesn't really come out. There isn't like we step back and get the bigger picture. We get swept away in preoccupations, thoughts, fantasies, stories, resentments – this inner world of what goes on. These are all mental activities that hijack awareness. There are other mental activities that enable awareness, or open the mind. They don't hijack, but rather enhance the quality of the mind.
The Buddha made the distinction between mental factors that close the mind and those that open the mind. The distinction is between the Five Hindrances and the Seven Factors of Awakening.
The Five Hindrances are: strong sensual desire, lust, craving; aversion, ill will, hostility; sloth and torpor, lethargy, resistance; agitation, restlessness, anxiety, regrets, agitated states of preoccupation; and then confusion, uncertainty, doubt. We can get lost in the rabbit hole of doubt and confusion.
This can have a very strong gravitational pull. We get pulled into them. They can come with a lot of authority, like: "This is really important. I have to be involved in this." The consequence is that attention gets hijacked. For the Buddha, when attention gets hijacked, he calls that a loss of wisdom – blindness, obstruction to the mind, covering over the mind, making the mind fragile, brittle, and hard.
The other pull opens the Seven Factors of Awakening. These are: awareness, (mindfulness itself); clarity of mind (investigation); effort; joy; tranquility; samādhi (concentration); and equanimity. All of these can work together as a whole, or singularly to open the mind up, and open up the quality of the inner life. This is where the emotional side really comes to play.
One of the most sublime, beautiful emotions, which is hard for people who haven't experienced it to appreciate, is the quality of equanimity. It's a beautiful feeling.
Tranquility has an emotional quality: strong, embodied, and broad – with warmth, clarity, stillness, and peacefulness.
Joy, of course, seems emotional.
Samādhi is an integration of bringing together of all aspects of our life, including the emotional.
The Seven Factors of Awakening are characteristics or supports for awareness, for mindfulness itself. The more they operate together with awareness, the more they tend to open and strengthen awareness. They create vision. They support wisdom. They remove obstructions. They remove the coverings that keep us from seeing things clearly. They make the mind malleable, soft, workable, ready, and receptive to do the work.
We're talking about mental activities that represent this divide between becoming more closed or more open. It's possible to cultivate each of the Seven Factors of Awakening by themselves – to be attuned to them, and learn to recognize and support them. They tend to grow in the wake of really emphasizing mindfulness and attention. But mindfulness – whatever way we practice it – in and of itself, is not a closing activity. There isn't some other mental activity that comes along with mindfulness – like striving, expectation, pushing, or contracting around the mindfulness – that begins moving it in the direction of the hindrances, closing down.
This ability to track the mind state allows us to protect the mindfulness from being hijacked. We can focus on the mindfulness. If it's getting more closed as I try hard, maybe I can find a way to be more open, more relaxed. This simple movement from being more closed to being more open.
Yesterday, I used the Gil Fronsdal technical terms, 'Ouch' and 'Ahh.' What involves more stress, more suffering, more discomfort – and what goes in the opposite direction. To be able to see that simple divide is one of the primary characteristics of the second factor of awakening, usually called investigation. It is clarity of mind that sees this valence, this distinction between the Ouch and the Ahh – being closed or being open. Becoming blind or lost in our preoccupations – or opening up, and having vision and clarity of what's happening.
This is one of the great advantages of beginning to tune into the mind state. As I said in the meditation, it's fascinating because it's very valuable and even healing. Just being attentive to that simple movement can free us from having to get caught up in whether it's right or wrong, or whether I'm a good or bad person.
You can have the worst preoccupation that anybody's ever had in the history of humanity, and in being with the mind state, it doesn't really matter. It just matters that you recognize that you closed down, you got tight. There's an opportunity then just to allow yourself to open. Just let it go, let it recede and move towards the openness of mind. That simple movement – that's the direction to go – can make the practice much simpler, and it's very forgiving.
The mind state: that's what we're doing today. We will continue tomorrow.
Then starting on Monday, we will go through the Seven Factors of Awakening, as we linger in this area of the mind, state. It's such an important one. We'll go on from there.
Thank you very much, and I look forward to our time together tomorrow.